WATCHING Bratislava and Budapest jaw at each other across the Danube over a provocative status law for Hungarians living abroad has been entertaining, to say the least. But it's also been frustrating, for with many laws to be passed in both capitals if Slovakia and Hungary are to make it into the European Union by 2004, one feels like asking: Don't you guys have work to do?
The Slovak government and parliament are falling badly behind in their EU-related tasks, and continue to waste far too much time on fruitless political sparring.
In January not a single new bill or amendment was presented by the government to parliament. This session has been better, but we've still had hours of spouting on the Hungarian law, several pointless debates on the recall of government members, a wrong-headed drive to halt a vital privatisation, and a hypocritical discussion on the failure of a savings-and-loan company.
Meanwhile, cabinet has not even looked at 42 bills it needs to get through parliament by the end of June if Slovakia's aim of entering the EU by 2004 is to be met. In all, over 50 laws remain to be enacted before the summer recess, for September elections mean that little meaningful work is likely to be done between the summer holidays and Silvester 2002.
Independent MP František Šebej, who leaves parliament to walk his dog whenever he's had his fill of "political exhibitionism", said many members of the government were clearly more interested in serving themselves than the country.
Sounds like par for the course in politics, especially in the lead-up to national elections. But on a deeper level it rings a bell with how a senior policeman described changes in Slovak society since 1989
"We've lost any kind of sense of community, of obligation to others; everyone is out for himself and his own interests," said Jaroslav Spišiak in an interview last week with The Slovak Spectator.
It's a pity Slovakia's rapid progress to the front ranks of EU hopefuls has taken such a nosedive. The country had completed legislative changes in 22 of 29 areas required by the EU by the end of 2001, but now faces some of the toughest reforms (i.e. agriculture) with the major distraction of elections.
If there's a ray of hope it is that the deal reached February 20 on the sale of a 49 per cent stake in gas utility SPP will allow the cabinet to refocus on EU tasks, and on the completion of some of the most important undone work, such as pension reform.
But the government has to make passing these laws a priority, and to agree in parliament that they will receive priority and accelerated treatment. It has to put public pressure on ministers such as Agriculture's Pavol Koncoš to get with the game. With so much work to do it has to turn a deaf ear to neighbours across the Danube who would rather flap their gums than rake leaves.